Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Politicians Attack

As election day approaches in the United States, the inevitable barrage of negative ads and unfavorable spin may have some Americans questioning whether politics can possibly grow any nastier. The truth is, political disagreements are pretty tame these days--at least, when compared to those of the nineteenth century.

Less than five years before the start of our Civil War, for example, Senator Charles Sumner, an antislavery Republican from Massachusetts, was nearly clubbed to death by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks after Sumner insulted Brooks’s relative, South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, in a particularly inflammatory speech. And our first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was famously killed in an 1804 duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, eventually giving rise to the first and funniest "Got Milk?" commercial.

Though a notoriously poor shot, Andrew Jackson was still the Chuck Norris of the early 1800s.

Though his reasons were usually more personal than political, our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, allegedly fought more than a hundred duels. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, began living with him before her divorce from her first husband was official, and Jackson was always quick to respond to slurs (real or perceived) against her honor. In one of his most famous duels, fought in 1806, Jackson challenged attorney Charles Dickinson. Dickinson had insulted Rachel on a previous occasion, though the immediate provocation for the duel with Jackson was a letter to the newspaper in which Dickinson called him “a poltroon and a coward” following a dispute over a horse race. Dickinson, who had already met and killed 26 opponents, was a crack shot and he knew it, even stopping on the long ride to the agreed-upon Kentucky dueling grounds to show off his marksmanship to the friends accompanying him. Jackson realized he couldn’t match Dickinson’s skill with a pistol, but he had no lack of courage, so he settled on a strategy of allowing Dickinson a quick first shot, hoping it wouldn’t be fatal, after which Jackson intended to take slow and careful aim.

When Dickinson fired, smoke snaked its way out of Jackson’s coat, and Jackson touched a hand to his chest—but he didn’t waver. Baffled, Dickinson cried out, “My God, have I missed him?” Dickinson’s shot had in fact hit Jackson, breaking his ribs and narrowly missing his heart, but Jackson stood his ground. Then Dickinson had to remain still while Jackson fired. Jackson aimed, drew back the hammer of his pistol, squeezed the trigger—and the pistol stuck in the half-cocked position. The rules of the duel required Dickinson to wait while Jackson coolly drew back the hammer and aimed again. Jackson's shot hit Dickinson, who soon bled to death. When a doctor marveled that Jackson was able to remain on his feet despite his chest wound, Jackson replied, “I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain.”

Though he was also accounted a poor shot, the Duke of Wellington was undeniably easy on the eyes.

Fortunately, not all of history's famed political disputes feature bloodshed. In 1829 the Tory Duke of Wellington, then Britain's Prime Minister, spoke in favor of Catholic emancipation, whereupon the super-ultra-Tory tenth Earl of Winchilsea accused him of carrying on “insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of popery into every department of the state.” Wellington challenged Winchilsea to a duel, and the earl had little choice but to accept the challenge. Despite his strong anti-Catholic feelings, Winchilsea nevertheless quickly came to the realization that it would be a faux pas of epic proportions to kill the hero of Waterloo. The two men met at Battersea Fields (now Battersea Park) on March 21, 1829, and when the signal to fire was given, the earl didn’t even raise his pistol. Wellington responded by purposely firing wide, whereupon Winchilsea fired into the air. Honor satisfied, Winchelsea ate crow, sending to the newspaper a letter he had already prepared in which he announced, “Having given the Duke of Wellington the usual satisfaction, I do not now hesitate to declare, of my own accord, that, in apology, I regret having unadvisedly published an opinion which the noble Duke states to have charged him with disgraceful and criminal motives in a certain transaction.” The Catholics and their supporters had the last laugh when the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 became law less than a month later.

Let’s hope all this year’s political disputes end as civilly.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press, and her second regency will be out in March of 2013. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Finding Your Civil War Ancestors

I’ve always had a weakness for the American Civil War. There’s something about friends and brothers on opposite battle lines that lends itself to romanticism. When you study American history, something about us changes after the Civil War.  The United States starts down a path to moderism that necessarily sheds the cloak of chivalry. 
I knew they were out there, my Civil War ancestors.  Nearly every family with boots on the ground in the 1860’s had a twig or two in the Civil War—and not always on the same side.  While my mother has done a great deal of geneological research, she saved the Civil War ancestors for me.  I needed to get started, so if you’ve ever wondered how to access this kind of information about your own family, read on!
The National Archives is the culmination point of your search, but you need some general information first, such as name, whether the soldier fought for North or South, and the state in which your soldier mustered into service.  To narrow the field even further, finding the specific unit in which your soldier served can be helpful.  Most non-elisted servicemen would be in “volunteer” regiments that may have mustered in close to where the soldier lived.  You do not necessarily need to know the regiment, but if your ancesor had a fairly common name, this information would make him easier to find. 
The National Park Service website offers a searchable Civil War Soldier database that, if you have the name and state, can generate pertinent information, such as the regiment, rank in and rank out, and the film number at the National Archive on which the soldier’s records can be found:

The unit informtion is clickable, and will give you the entire regimental roster, so if you have more than one relative in the same unit, this is convenient.  To learn anything about your soldier beyond this information, you have to dig further.  Luckily, much of this information has gone digial.
Fold3 offers an easy to use, searchable douments database through the National Archives that will provide service records, if available:  http://go.fold3.com/civilwar 
You can also order directly from the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/ , but the process is a little more frustrating.  You can order records either by mail or online, being sure to request all service records, pension records, and medical records.  The majority of this information is free and can be delivered digitally (see below, via Fold3), but may require a fee if you request copies be made and sent from the National Archives.

That’s enough to get you started and lead you in the right direction, but it’s good to know that the National Archives aren’t the only resource.  State archives are also goldmines and may be more convenient if you live near by and prefer to put your hands on things.  For census records, the Latter Day Saints have compiled a mountain of genealogical research that you can access by visiting your local LDS community or online at http://ldsgenealogy.com/
Happy searching!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back When You Could Get Morphine and a Syringe from the Sears Catalogue


I love history and I enjoy medical history. Recently, I came across this article on patent medicines from the Victorian era. I especially love the advert for the Vital Power Vacuum Massager.

While we laugh at these snake oil medicines and the people who purchased them, we need to remember how different times were back then. We’ve grown up with all the advantages of modern Inappropriate: An advert for cocaine toothache drops, marketed at children, which cost just 15 cents in 1885medicine. We understand germ theory, viruses, cancer, bacteria and the role they play in disease. We have the benefits of surgery under anesthesia, x-rays and MRIs. In the past, people were afraid of disease because they didn't understand how it spread. They didn't have antibiotics or easy access to doctors, meaning life-long pain, suffering, disfigurement, and death were constant companions. Patent medicines were hope in a bottle, and, with alcohol and opiates as the main ingredients, people probably felt pretty good after taking them.

We wouldn't be where we are today without the innovations of previous generations. However, it is interesting to see how hard some old habits died when we entered the modern age. For example, the belief in “miasma” as an agent of infection was alive and well during the 1918 influenza pandemic. That was less than 100 years ago. My grandfather used to tell me about the pandemic and about losing his mother to the flu.

During the pandemic, with no Tamiflu available and little understanding of the virus causing the disease, folk remedies enjoyed a great deal of popularity. I read a book once about the pandemic, and it explained how concerned parents would hang asafetida bags around their children's necks to ward off the “bad air.” Asafetida is a foul smelling herb. My sister once ordered some of it and even in a zip-lock bag in a glass bottle it stunk so much we had to put it outside. My mother remembers her grandmother regularly employing these bags during her early childhood in the late 1940s. We laugh about it but, according to my mom, my great-grandmother took it very seriously.
So, what will people 100 years from now laugh at us about? My money is on weight-loss products. I’m curious to hear what you think. What current medical advertisements or practices do you think will end up in a news article in the future?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Runes


Have I got your attention?
This is the cover of my book, Knight of Runes. *Heavy sigh*  Runes, the writing down Lord Arik’s chest, play a large part in this story. Runes hold both the family secret and magic that the heroine, Rebeka, must decipher to finish her quest and win her man.
Runes are an alphabetic script used in Northern Europe from the first century c.e. until well into the Middle Ages. In addition to their use as a written alphabet, the runes also served as a system of symbols used for magic and divination. Runes fell into disuse as the Roman alphabets became the preferred script throughout most of Europe, but their forms and meanings were preserved in inscriptions and manuscripts. 
The primary characteristic differentiating a runic alphabet from other alphabets is each letter, or rune, has a meaning. For example, "ay", "bee", and "cee" are meaningless sounds. They represent the first three letters in our alphabet. The names of the first three runes, "fehu", "uruz", and "├żurisaz" are actual words in the Germanic language, meaning "cattle", "aurochs" (ancestor of domestic cattle), and "giant", respectively. Runes also have magical and religious significance and transform the simple process of writing into something magical. Runes are also used for divinatory readings and creating magical spells.
In our popular culture, runes are associated with mystical properties. The etymology of the word rune may be a driving factor. The Germanic root of the word, run, means "to conceal", "a secret". There’s another way to explain its mystical context.
At first runes were used as a sacred writing system and later became not only the magic, but also the civilian script. The first runic inscriptions appeared around 200 AD, but its origins may lie much deeper in the pre-history of Northern Europe. For the next thousand years it was used in Germany, Scandinavia, England, and Lowlands. In the late Middle Ages it was replaced by the Roman script everywhere in Northern Europe.
The strange sharp forms we recognize today result from rune inscription on metal, stone, or wood boards. When the alphabet, suspected of originating in Scandinavia, spread to the British Isles and to continental Europe, its symbols somehow changed, as well as the number of them. Modern science makes a distinction between the Elder Runes (up to the 9th century), and the later Younger or Scandinavian Runes, a special variety that existed in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 10th century.
Fathark Runes
The Elder Runes, used mostly for magic purposes, contain many personal names and their lexicon is sometimes hard to understand, though the language is clear. There are about 150 runic inscriptions and some of them contain just one or two symbols. The Younger inscriptions are more numerous (about 3500), and are mostly documents written in particular Germanic languages.
Though the origin of Futhark is unknown, there is no doubt that the alphabet is connected with the alphabets of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean (Greek and Italic).
My next task is to study my cover, really hard, and see if I can decode the runes. It may take me a very long time. Oh, the things I do for history!

Hi! I'm Ruth A. Casie. I'm a new author on Romancing the Past. I've always had stories in my head. I was encouraged by my family and friends to give way to my inner muse and write from my heart. I write historical fantasies about strong men and empowered women and how they cope with unexpected challenges. I hope their stories become your favorite adventures!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Two months to release day, so it's excerpt time!

My next Carina book, An Infamous Marriage, releases Monday, November 5. Here's my beautiful cover, as selected by attendees at the Carina spotlight at RWA earlier this summer:


My hero and heroine, Jack and Elizabeth Armstrong, marry for mutual convenience in 1810. She's the impoverished widow of his best friend, and he needs someone to care for his aging, ailing mother while he is far away in Canada with his regiment. Because of their shared grief for her first husband, they don't consummate the marriage right away, and their efforts at a long-distance post-marital courtship by correspondence falter when tales of his womanizing make it all the way across the Atlantic to Elizabeth's ears. She could forgive the adultery, in an unconsummated marriage. But the scandal and mockery are too much to be borne.

When Jack returns to England in 1815, Elizabeth informs him she's not willing to fall into his bed and give him the heir he wants until he earns her forgiveness--and she's by no means certain that day will ever come.  He persuades her to give him a chance, and to let him come to her room every night, just to talk, and to forestall servant gossip about their estrangement. During their first night's conversation, he discovers how much she longs to travel and envies him for having seen more of the world than she has:

"There’s nothing to stop you from traveling wherever you like now.”

She blinked, then her eyes widened and her cheeks grew flushed. Elizabeth might not be a beauty in any conventional sense, but whenever her spirit animated her features she was lovely to look upon. But the moment passed quickly, and her eyes shuttered behind a frown. “Of course there is. You want me to bear you an heir.”

“If you can ever forgive me enough to allow me, indeed I do.” He rubbed furtively at his right leg, which was beginning to ache from his old injury. Should he tell her he would want her in his bed even if he had no line to continue and no land to pass on, or would that alarm her more at this stage?

“Well, then. You wouldn’t want your heir born in the Ionian Islands, instead of here at the Grange, would you?”

“Supposing good attendants and a capable accoucheur could be had there, and I don’t know if that’s the case. But we could learn. And I’m certain you and the baby could have even better care than you could get here in any number of places. London, to name the most obvious, but also Edinburgh, Dublin…Paris, Vienna, Rome, Brussels, Berlin…” He warmed to the theme as he began ticking the great cities of Europe off on his fingers. He’d hardly got the chance to fight in Europe as a soldier, how would it be to travel there in peacetime simply for the pleasure of it? He decided he wanted to find out. “We could go on a Grand Tour together.”

Her eyes narrowed. “So I can travel, then, but only if we consummate the marriage.”

Part of him wanted to drive such a bargain, if only it would work. But she might call his bluff. Even if she did not, did he really want a wife who only tolerated his presence in bed? Especially this wife, with her unexpected loveliness and prickly, defiant soul? “If we separate,” he said patiently, “then I won’t have any say in your comings and goings. You could certainly live on the Continent, if you chose. But I hope it won’t come to that. I’d like to see Paris with you.”

She frowned at him in utter bewilderment. “Why,” she said at last, “are you being reasonable?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer me to be unreasonable?”

“Yes—no—I don’t know!” She shook her head and glared at him. “If we separate,” she said, “you have no heir for all this.” She indicated Westerby Grange and its lands with a wave of one hand. “I expected more rage at the very possibility.”

He hid a smile. Without a conscious plan, he’d hit on the right strategy, and now he would stick with it. If he didn’t rage back, surely her fury—her perfectly justified fury—would spend itself more quickly.
“Would it do my cause any good, given that I’ve no intention of throwing you onto that bed and asserting my rights against your will?”

Her jaw fell open, and she stared at the bed, then back at him. “No.”

“So I won’t do it.” He stood, shifting most of his weight to his good leg. “I want you. But unless you want me too, it’s no good.”

“You don’t want me. You want an heir.”

He smiled a little. “That’s what I would’ve said this morning. But now I’ve seen you. Good night, Elizabeth.”

Without waiting for a reply, he bowed to her and left her to seek his solitary bed.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Strawberry and Coffee Creams


You know when you have one of those massive barrels of sweets – usually at Christmas over here in the UK. Quality Street’s the nation’s favourite and they have a great selection of sweets in them. Nut clusters, caramel cups, toffees, fudge etc etc.
And then Christmas is over, and you are left with a handful of sweets that no-one wants.  Orange, Strawberry and COFFEE creams. BLEURGHK.
Now this is obviously only indicative of what my family like – I’m sure there are lots of people who love these flavours, but it does seem to be coffee that is the least favourite, if the brilliant Revels Roulette adverts are anything to go on.
Revels Russian Roulette (Longer Version)


And where am I going with this??? Well, I don't know if you know but I run "Speak Its Name" which is the only review site that concentrates on gay historical fiction and although I have choice as to what books I read for pleasure, when it comes to Speak its Name I have to read a lot of eras that really make me go meh, even before I've opened the book and it's not really fair on the book. I’ve noticed a worrying trend recently, that I tend to leave the westerns till last and right now, out of 40 or so books to be reviewed, more than half of them are westerns.  I hate to say it, but I’ve found that westerns are my coffee creams.
And I’m sorry about this.  I don’t think there are more westerns written than any other gay historical — although, this might be the case, I’ve not done a fact-finding mission to find out — it’s just that, because I’m not mad on the genre, I tend to put them to one side and then I end up with a ton of them to do at once–which doesn’t do anything for my temper or the balance of the site.
I don’t know when I stopped being a fan of the western, either. I used to love them as a child and even went to the cinema to catch classics such as True Grit, and I was such a huge fan of Rawhide (Gil Favour for the win) but now I tend to avoid most of them, except for Slashy goodness such as The Searchers.  (Yes, really.  If you don’t believe me, go and watch it again, John Wayne’s character is most certainly bisexual at the very least.) The very worst western and one that will make me run screaming from the sofa is anything Mexican. Don’t ask me why. I like coffee to drink, and I LOVE strawberries and oranges so nothing really makes sense.
And my aversion to western gay fiction  makes no sense either because there’s been a good few that I’ve really enjoyed.  Mark Probst’s “The Filly” is a beautifully written restrained piece of fiction, Jamie Craig’s “Those Who Cherish” was highly enjoyable, and Kiernan Kelly’s “In Bear Country” duet of books have everything necessary for a reader, adventure, romance and a good historical feel. I don't think that at the moment, Carina Press has any gay historical westerns - that's odd.
So I don’t know why I’ve got this westernphobia. Perhaps it’s because for every good book, there’s three not so stellar with more cliches than tumbleweeds, but then that’s true of every kind of fiction really isn’t it?
Perhaps in future for reviews I’ll take a tip from the Russian Roulette advert and just pick a book blindfold and not allow myself to push the least favourites to the back of the drawer.
Is there any genre you find yourself avoiding?  Is there any logical reason for it (unlike me!)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Are Writers Born or Made?



There’s something stimulating about being married to an intelligent man who never takes anything at face value, sees what other people miss and questions just about everything. The down side is that he sometimes makes me feel…well, inadequate. Make that most of the time! He says that having an enquiring mind is a torment. I’ll have to take his word for that.

What has this to do with writing? Well, unlike my cerebrally blessed spouse, I’ve never been good at anything much, accept writing stories and riding horses. I grew up on the Isle of Wight in Southern England, literally five minutes’ walk from Queen Victoria’s Island retreat, a few miles from Carisbrooke Castle, where Charles 1st was held prisoner until being taking to London to have his head chopped off. Ouch! We have so many castles, stately homes and ancient ruins dotted all over our small island that I just took them for granted.

I guess that’s how I absorbed my love of history, kind of like osmosis. It crept up on me without my permission and now I’m stuck with it. Damn! My first serious attempt at a novel, many years back when I was only about twenty, was set in the rich English Regency period, a time of change, war and the thirst for excitement, fronted up by a king-in-waiting who had too much time on his hands. Well, we all know where that led and I guess us writers should be grateful to the portly prince. His antics supplied us with endless inspiration.

Life got in the way and although I continued to read voraciously, I didn’t seriously put pen to paper again until about eight years ago. Yep, you’ve guessed it, I produced another regency. I joined the British Romantic Novelists’ Association and with their help was fortunate enough to get that novel accepted by a long-standing London publisher. That first book moment is a unique experience for any writer—one that stays with her forever—but for me it was especially sweet. Flash back to my clever husband. At last I’d done something that he’d never achieved and it was his turn to be proud of me. It worked wonders for my confidence which receives an additional boost each time another book gets accepted. I’m now up to number twenty-one. 

Four more regencies followed in quick succession, by which time I was bursting with ideas and ready to try another genre. Romance still but modern day this time. After all, my five regencies had been snapped up. I could do anything I wanted to, couldn’t I?
Er…well no, actually I couldn’t. I soon found out just how crowded the contemporary market is and I guess I didn’t make the transition as smoothly as my fledgling confidence led me to imagine would be the case. Regency-speak was in my blood by then and my modern words sounded stilted, I can quite see that now. I rewrote and rewrote again until eventually, embracing e-publishing, I managed to find homes for all six of them.

Okay, time to reinvent myself. Again. Write about what you know, that’s my mantra. Saves on all that time-consuming research. We’ve owned boats for years and I know more about the wretched things than I ever wanted to. Plus, all those detective programmes about cold cases. Maybe I could combine the two?
That’s how the Hunter Files, my marine crime mysteries featuring youngish retired detective Charlie Hunter living aboard his motor yacht and getting dragged back into his cold cases came into existence. Unfinished Business and Risky business have been published by Carina Press. Lethal Business hits the digital bookshelves next year. This time though I’m writing in the first person from a male perspective. Don’t know much about being an alpha male myself but I sure as hell know a man who does!

I’m still loyal to my first love and continue to write regencies, now published by Carina Press. The first in a series, The Forsters, will be published on December 10th. Compromising the Marquess is the story of Hal Forster, Marquess of Denby. Three others will follow, charting the romantic aspirations of Hal’s three siblings.

So, in my case at least, it seems that writers are born. What do you think?

Wendy